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UFPPC (www.ufppc.org) Digging Deeper CXXIX: July 19, 2010, 7:00 p.m.

Stewart Brand, Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto (New York:

Viking/Penguin Group, October 2009).

[Thesis. "Cities are Green. Nuclear (19). Compared to Whole Earth Catalog,
energy is Green. Genetic engineering is this book is less about individual power
Green" (205). Determinedly optimistic, and more about aggregate power (20).
Stewart Brand believes in science and "[T]he European Union, the United
wants the Green movement to "grab States, China, and India . . . have to get
progress and direct it toward Green tough" (20). Personal notes (20-22).
goals" (226).] People now need to look forward and
back 10,000 years in making decisions
Ch. 1: Scale, Scope, Stakes, Speed. (the Long Now) (22-23).
"We are as gods and HAVE to get good at
it" (1). If we do not master climate Ch. 2: City Planet. "In 1800 the world
change, there will be "war of all against was 3 percent urban; in 1900, 14 percent
all, this time with massively lethal urban; in 2007, 50 percent urban" (25).
weapons and a dieback measured in Rampant urbanization (25-29). Rapid
billions" (3; inspired by Steven LeBlanc urbanization in "squatter cities" of the
and Katherine Register, Constant Battles developing world is a hopeful thing (29-
[2003]). Technology and science, 42). Their "informal economy" is
however, offer "a chance to break a enormously powerful, but it escapes
million-year-old cycle of conflict and notice because it is designed to (42-47).
crisis" (3; Leblanc's words). In 2003 Criminal organizations are important in
Brand contributed to a Pentagon study of "feral zones" but their transition to
the implications of rapid climate change ordinary urban neighborhoods can be
for national security (4-5). Experts take finessed (47-50).
for granted that the Arctic icecap is
disappearing (5-6). Positive-feedback Ch. 3: Urban Promise. Cell phones
effects make climate tipping point a have revolutionized the lives of the urban
dangerous prospect (6-11). Jim Lovelock poor (51-54). Digital divide? No problem
believes the earth is "on the move" to its (54-55). "Urbanization defused the
stable "hot" state, about 5º C. (9º f.) population bomb," and some areas
higher than now, and that the earth can (including China, due to urbanization and
support only one billion humans at that a one-child policy) will soon face
temperature; if Lovelock is right, we're demographic meltdowns; this might
"ants on a burning log" (11-12). sound good, but the economic problems
"Civilization is at risk, but civilization is it causes may subvert responsible
the problem" (13). Saul Griffith hopes stewardship (59; 55-62). It's time to shift
humanity will cause CO2 to level off at to "gently pronatal" policies (62-63). The
450ppm, but can't see how it can be U.S. (immigrants and churchgoers) and
done politically (13-15). The ecosystem France (generous benefits) have the
is best regarded as infrastructure (15- highest birth rates in the developed
16). Ironically, the environmental world (63). Demographic and climate
movement accelerated climate change change (63-65). Sausalito houseboats as
by opposing nuclear power (17-18). a squatter community (65-66). The New
Climate has been a human artifact since Urbanism promotes "high density, mixed
the agricultural revolution 10,000 years use, walkability, mass transit, eclectic
ago (18-19). "'Nature' can't be counted design, and regionalism" (66; 66-73).
on, having been compromised long ago"
Ch. 4: New Nukes. A visit to Yucca they know it is not so different from the
Mountain Repository in Nevada in 2002 "standard chaos of evolution and the
led Brand to change his opposition to just-barely-organized chaos of
nuclear power, on the grounds that either agricultural breeding" (128; 128-29).
future technology will be able to handle Agriculture itself was "[h]umanity's first
the waste, or, on the other hand, "[i]f we venture into genetic modification" (129;
crash back to the stone age, odd doses of 129-31). But GE is much more "precise,
radioactivity will be the least of our transparent, and accountable" than
problems" (78; 75-79). Nuclear power is breeding (132). Little is natural about
also attractive for its high "baseload" and "natural food" (133). "[A]ll crops are
low "footprint" (80-82). Conservation ecologically harmful," GE crops less so
(83-84). Pro-nuclear environmentalists than others (134). The success stories of
(84-88). Younger Greens are less leery glyphosate (Roundup), no-till agriculture,
of nuclear power than their elders, whose Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) corn, and Bt
fears of radiation and cancer amount to cotton (134-38). The idea that GE
"antiquated obsessions" (90; 89-97). endangers the family farm is a "bucolic
Rebuttal of the anti-nuclear arguments of fantasy" (138-39). Farmers want GE
Amory Lovins, whom Brand accuses of technology (139-40). Opposition to GE
"private-sector bias" (104; 97-105). crops is a luxury of rich countries (140-
Disposing of nuclear waste (105-07). 41). Myths debunked: Bt corn pollen
Reprocessing encourages a drawdown of killing monarch butterflies (142-43), GE
nuclear weapons (107-08). Proliferation corn invading Mexico (143-45), Monsanto
fears are exaggerated (108-11). France's enslaving farmers through engineered
"efficient licensing process" (111; 111- sterility (145-48). "Being generically
13). Reactor design (113-14). Nuclear against corporations is not more useful
power should be encouraged "in the right than being generically against nations"
way" (114; 114-16). (148). The GE industry is too
concentrated and use-restrictive, but
Ch. 5: Green Genes. The "[a]lternatives are emerging" (149; 148-
environmental movement's opposition to 50). Success stories: GE papayas in
genetic engineering "has done more Hawaii defeated papaya ringspot virus in
harm . . . than . . . any other thing we've the 1990s (151-52); golden rice prevents
been wrong about" (117). Brand prefers blindness (152-54). Horror story:
the term GE (genetically engineered) to starvation in Zambia as GE opponents
GM (genetically modified) because all encouraged refusal of GE corn (154-56).
evolution is genetic modification (118- Africa is a battlefield of the GE issue
19). Mid-1970s fears of recombinant- (156-59). Much of Europe's opposition to
DNA research were greatly exaggerated GE food is justified by the Precautionary
and the GE debate should have been Principle, but Brand sees in this idea a
settled then, but instead "Friends of the failure of nerve; he would keep it in name
Earth and all the other environmental but in substance replace it with a
organizations I know of still oppose "vigilance principle" and rapid
genetic engineering" (124; 119-124). classification of innovations as "1)
Beginning in 1996 North America provisionally unsafe until proven unsafe;
embraced GE food crops and Europe did 2) provisionally safe until proven safe; 3)
not, and today "[n]o difference can be provisionally beneficial until proven
detected between the test and control beneficial" (164; 159-65). Anti-GE
group" (124; 124-26). Natural foods are activists' notion of "nature" as a sacred
full of harmful chemicals; "[e]verything realm is not as ethically useful as "a
depends on dosage" (128; 126-28). sense of how harms and benefits are
Scientists are relaxed about GE because distributed" (167).
pessimism (210; 210-13). Progressives
Ch. 6: Gene Dreams. The wonders of are now against progress and
microbes, especially bacteria (169-72). conservatives are now against
"Every few minutes, every one of the conservation (213). Environmentalism
microbes in your body (and the ocean, should not be leftist (213-15). The focus
and the soil, and the air) is defying should be on problem-solving, à la Paul
precaution and the sacred, playing God, Hawken (215-16). Paean to science and
peforming an act illegal in Europe— engineering (216-26). Foxes (Aristotle,
swapping genes around in an endless Shakespeare, Voltaire, Joyce, scientists in
search for competitive or collaborative general—and Jerry Brown) make better
advantage" (172-73). Gene transfer is predictions than hedgehogs (Plato,
everywhere; "[s]uspicion is growing that Dante, Hegel, Proust, romantics in
gene-swapping through viruses is the general—and George W. Bush), political
dominant engine of evolution" (174-75). scientist Philip Tetlock has found (227-
Lamarck's inheritance of acquired 230). It's important to acknowledge
characteristics was not so far off the mistakes and make an effort to
mark, after all (176-77). "All biologists understand the other side (230-33).
are genomicists now," and synthetic
biology is opening up as a field (177; Ch. 8: It's All Gardening. Native
177-81). Argument for a GE-inclusive American wisdom was to "know how to
organic agriculture (181-87). Norman live where they live," not some
Borlaug (1914-2009), father of the Green metaphysical wisdom that can imparted
Revolution, saved perhaps a billion lives to outsiders (235-38). Diseases of
by developing high-yield varieties of corn Europeans killed tens of millions of
and wheat (187-88). The environmental Native Americans between 1492 and
movement was on the wrong side (189- 1650 (238-39). Indian agriculture (239-
91). Sir Gordon Conway has enabled 42). Ecosystem engineering: Bali's
biotech work to be available to poor water-temple system (242-45). The
nations (191-93). Biofortified food (193- pattern of human prehistory and history:
95). Medical benefits will help GE food "Humans invade new places, wreak
overcome resistance (195-97). Forestry destruction, then eventually settle down.
(197-201). GE will contribute to They invade each other, slaughter, then
addressing climate change (201-03). eventually settle down" (246). Daniel
"Where are the Green biotech hackers?" Janzen's conservation work in Costa Rica
(204; 203-05). (247-48). Wildlands can be managed—
and commercialized—for people (248-
Ch. 7: Romantics, Scientists, 59). Leaving them alone can work, too
Engineers. "[T]he environmental (250-52). Examples of restoring the wild:
movement is driven by two powerful Austin, TX (252-53), American southwest
forces—romanticism and science—that (253-55), forests (255-57), Pacific coast
are often in opposition, with a third force (257-58), American chestnuts (258), the
emerging [engineering]" (208). It's time Great Plains (258-60), possible revival of
for the Green movement to change its mammoths (260-63), the native-plant
agenda to saving civilization from climate movement (263-67). Ecology can't be a
dynamics (208-10). Citing Arthur predictive science yet because it's still in
Herman, The Idea of Decline in Western an observational phase, discovering
History (1997). Brand feels growing species (267-69). DNA barcoding is
"distrust of romanticism," which, accelerating the process (269-71).
following Herman, he links to Rousseau, Bioregionalism means engaging where
because fealty to mysticism is "a formula you live long and deeply (271-73).
for disaster" and inevitably leads to
Ch. 9: Planet Craft. "[H]umanity is now and even bet money against me about
stuck in a planet stewardship role" (275). them" (316).
"If we make the right moves at the right
time, all may yet be well" (276). Index. 9 pp.
"[D]eleterious elements should be
concentrated" (276). Better knowledge About the Author. Stewart Brand
of how the Earth works is needed (277- published the Whole Earth Catalog from
80). The prospect of geoengineering 1968 to 1985. He is the author of The
(281-93). Politics of geoengineering Media Lab, How Buildings Learn, and The
(293-95). Asteroid deflection (295-98). Clock of the Long Now. He co-founded
Humanity is in a situation like that of The Long Now Foundation and the Global
someone locked out of a room where Business Network. Since 1982 he has
someone might be committing suicide: lived on a tugboat in San Francisco Bay.
"You break down the door" (298-99). The
Green movement may spin off a [Additional information. Stewart
"Turquoise" movement (299-300). Brand was born in Rockford, IL, on Dec.
Hortatory: "The shift from dread to 14, 1938. After prep school (Phillips
action is under way. The outcome is Exeter) he studied biology at Stanford.
wholly uncertain. Though microbes still He served in the U.S. Army, then studied
run the world, right now they could use a design at the San Francisco Art Institute
little help in tuning the atmosphere. Our and photography at San Francisco State.
efforts will be tiny compared to what He has a longtime interest in Native
they do but enormous for us. Thank you Americans of the American West; he was
for joining those efforts, if you do. In any once married to a mathematician who
case, thank you for joining this discourse. was a member of the Ottawa tribe, Lois
I owe you a summary: Ecological Jennings. Brand was one of Ken Kesey's
balance is too important for sentiment. It "Merry Pranksters," organizing sound-
requires science. The health of natural and-light shows in the Haight-Ashbury
infrastructure is too compromised for and appearing at the beginning of Tom
passivity. It requires engineering. What Wolfe's The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.
we call natural and what we call human His Whole Earth Catalog ("We are as
are inseparable. We live one life" (302). gods and we might as well get good at
it") was an important expression of
Recommended Reading. A fascinating Sixties counterculture. In 1974 Brand
list with comments of seven science founded the CoEvolution Quarterly, an
publications; three books and a website expression of his optimism about
on climate change; sources on cities; two humanity's future. In the late 1970s
books on population; a book and a Brand advised California Governor Jerry
website on nuclear power; five books and Brown. In 1984 he founded The Whole
a website on genetic engineering; five Earth Software Review, which merged
books, five periodicals, and a website with the CoEvolution Quarterly in 1985 as
related to environmentalism; six books Whole Earth Review. In the late 1980s,
on ecology; three books on Native he visited at the Media Laboratory at MIT
Americans; seven books on restoration; and organized private conferences for
four science fiction books on corporations, including Royal Dutch/Shell,
geoengineering. Volvo, and AT&T. Circa 2005 he
surprised many by embracing
Acknowledgments. Editors and ms. urbanization, nuclear power, and genetic
readers, and a plug for engineering; this is the origin of Whole
www.longbets.org, where "you may vote Earth Discipline. Brand claims to own a
on my forecasts, comment about them, table on which Otis Redding wrote
"(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay." are on a website (but only up to page
Among his aphorisms: "Information 138 as of July 2010). Brand's admission
wants to be free."] of past mistakes earns him credit for
candor, but weakens the confidence of
[Critique. Whole Earth Discipline is an the reader in his good judgment. Brand's
eye-opening book, whose calm tone embrace of nuclear energy is less
belies its urgency. Most pages contain convincing than his embrace of
something worth knowing that is not urbanization and genetic engineering.
well-known. Brand's "strongly stated and On cultural issues he is disappointing,
loosely held" opinions are conveyed in ignoring religion (except that of Native
writing that is casual but at a high Americans) and on the basis of a single
intellectual level. — Brand is no book engaging in a shallow diatribe
romantic; rather he is a tough old bird (or against "romanticism," which he does not
fox [227]), an engaging if define. Thus the author is not without his
cantankerous―sometimes snide and biases and blind spots―they seem, in
petulant―rationalist devoted to above all fact, integral to his techno-optimism. He
science (which he considers "the only does not discuss the institutional capture
news" [216]). He coolly contemplates of government by multinational
mass die-offs and challenges many corporations, rejects without discussion
sacred cows of environmentalism, but he critiques of capitalism and nationalism as
can also be chirpy and gleeful in a not germane, and never mentions
childlike way. Brand's cheerful American militarism or imperialism. He mentions
optimism ("If we make the right moves at Peak Oil only once, dismissively, and has
the right time, all may yet be well" [276]) almost nothing to say about the War on
is appealing but naïve; the former Merry Terror, 9/11, or the Project for a New
Prankster never acknowledges the American Century. — Though he often
authoritarianism that would be writes in the first person, this is not an
practically necessary to institute the intimate book; the reader does not get
approaches he recommends. — The close to the author. — Despite these
book is less of a manifesto than its title critical remarks, the book certainly
suggests, and Brand never defines merits attention, and Brand's list of
ecopragmatism, a term borrowed from recommended readings are worth the
Daniel Farber's 2000 book. Footnotes price of the volume in itself.]